Well, so far I have looked at AA, Armoured Cars, Rockets and Anti-Tank guns. Keeping with the Support section of the Force diagram, today I am going to turn my attention to the “Red god of War” with a focus on Support artillery options – Martin.
Organisation of the artillery varied across the elements of the Red Army with the Divisional Rifle having the most; initially a battalion (12 guns) of 76 mm guns; two mixed battalions with one battery (4 guns) of 76 mm guns and two batteries of 122 mm howitzers) and one howitzer regiment (a battalion of 122 mm howitzers and a battalion of 152 mm howitzers).
Guards and Motor Rifles lacked the howitzer regiment, just having 76mm and 122mm guns organised as one 76mm and two 122mm battalions and the Divisional Rifles later followed this structure as well. These could be supported by the Reserve Artillery Corps fielding another 78 or 84 assorted howitzers (the 152mm and larger guns were mainly found here). Their nickname, “Red god of War” seems more than apt.
Like the Red Army, the Soviet player has access to vast amounts of artillery in their Force diagrams. This series of articles is about Support options so I am focusing on the gun teams the 76mm, 122mm and 152mm artillery batteries but you should also consider the availability of formation mortar units when making your artillery choices.
To be honest, Soviet artillery is all very cheap to field compared to other nations at 8pts for the 76mm and 122mm and 12pts for the 152mm, meaning you can get roughly twice as many guns for the points as German players.
As always there are some key reasons for this. The main one is Skill, especially in mid war, where Soviet crews are rated as Green and, of secondary importance, is the lack of smoke and the standard Soviet Aggressive “hit on” rating of 3+. Most Soviet artillery is also classified as Large Guns, meaning they only have a 4+ save and make poor choices to ambush with.
At first glance all this seems a bit of a draw back but what it allows you to do is play in a way that mimics the the Soviet doctrine for field artillery, where batteries were deployed much closer to the front line and often fired over open sights. When firing this way Skill isn’t important as you are only concerned with the “hit on” rating of the target team. The 122mm and 152mm guns both have the Brutal rule meaning every time you do hit infantry and gun teams they are rerolling saves, exactly the same as if they were under a repeat bombardment. Its not quite as effective against blobs of infantry but can be more so when the enemy is well spread out. To compensate for the lack of smoke ammunition there is always the Under Cover of Smoke Command Card.
In Mobile Battles in particular rather than wasting turns trying to dig in and then to range in, I move the guns forward and use direct fire. Just rely on the gun shields to protect you from counter fire. Yes, you will get hit by small arms fire, but it still needs a 6 to kill your gun team (statistically that needs 18 hits). Never forget when assessing this that incoming shooting makes the enemy easier to hit back in return; no more gone to ground and, with the low cost of these units, this is a risk, more often than not, it’s worthwhile to take. Massed Zis-3’s rolling forward like this are hard to stop and are much cheaper than many equivalently armed MW tanks.
The mobility especially of lighter Soviet artillery guns gives you the opportunity to disengage them from an assault and still keep firing, something other nations cannot do, and the value of this shouldn’t be ignored in preserving your forces and limiting damage. I would also recommend taking a Tractor unit from the Command Cards so you can move the larger guns up if needed.
If you have a core Infantry Formation and haven’t tried playing like this, especially in Mid Wa, I would recommend you give it a go. It generates a lot of synergy with your infantry as well as providing them with close support from marauding tanks.
How I choose my artillery choices is, like my view of anti-tank guns, you need to have a tag team approach.
Always seeking to have a couple of templates in a list is normal, but 3 or 4 is even better and easily achieved in most Soviet lists. In my list building I always look to use complementary units, so a mix of light and heavy AT, FP or ability to generate rerolls from numbers of teams firing. My general principle is for FP4+ I need numbers of teams to boost their effectiveness or they need a good direct fire capability such as RoF2, long range or high AT. For FP3+ or better teams its about what other rules they have such as Slow Firing, Brutal or poor mobility. Mortars can replace one of these units but really should be an additional choice. If you go down this road you need to understand which you are replacing and why. Personally, I would never play with just mortar units; the points saving over guns isn’t that much and the downside of no direct fire capability is simply too big with the speed of the game today.
The Zis-3 or 76mm Artillery is the standad work horse of the Soviet artillery. Soviet soldiers liked the ZiS-3 for its extreme reliability, durability, and accuracy. The gun was easy to maintain and use by novice crews. The light carriage allowed the ZiS-3 to be towed by trucks, heavy jeeps (like American lend-leased Dodge 3/4), or even hauled by the crew. The gun was also quite popular with the German Wehrmacht. The gun was introduced into German service as the Kanone 7.62 cm (r) and factories were retooled to produce ammunition for it.
The 76mm has a low end bombardment capabilty with AT2, FP4+, has a respectable direct fire rating AT9 with FP3+, a good ROF of 2, plus it has a good amount of mobility with a 4″ Tactical movement and a decent 4+ cross rating. This makes the 76mm a good option for mobile close infantry support and a good choice for supporting tank formations where their RoF can allow them to be left alone near objectives when needed. As a bombardment weapon it sits between the 82mm mortar which benefits from larger numbers and thus has rerolls to hit and the Katyusha with its larger Salvo template. I see this as primarily a direct fire weapon with its bombardment being a secondary capability in the right circumstances. I will often use these in a duel AT/Artilery choice this is a particularly points cost effective option in smaller games.
The 122mm M1942 howitzer was built on a solid carriage but was of itself a fairly light gun and was a replacement design for the guns lost in 1941 German offensive. It has an AT3, FP3+ bombardment capability which is good all around. You can now threaten most tank as well as guns and infantry teams. Still, with AT9 but with now with FP2+ and Brutal, direct fire is a potent option but, these guns only have RoF1 and are Slow Firing another weakness is only having a 16″ Range which makes them susceptible to getting pinned by small arms fire. This makes them comparable to the 120mm mortar battery in the bombardment role but they have an effective direct fire capability. This is primarily a bombardment weapon but can be used for direct fire in the right situation. Even if pinned, most German armour wont want to get hit by an FP2+ weapon if they go in for an assault.
The 152mm M1943 was a development on the 122mm and shares the same gun carriage but with an even larger gun. With its AT3, FP2+ it is the most destructive artillery piece available to Soviet generals. Like the 122mm, it has the Brutal rule, but with direct fire at AT12 and FP Auto even heavy armour needs to be careful if they come into direct fire range.
Where the 152mm is lacking though is its short range in direct fire mode at just 16″ (40cm) and having a moving ROF rating of “-” so, if they get pinned, they can’t shoot at all. This makes them a less versatile choice than the 122mm. Because of this lack of moving ROF I only considered this as a bombardment weapon to be kept at the back of the table – I will need luck on my side to make use of its deadly direct fire capability.
So lets look at the artillery option combinations you could take, the table below illustrates what I consider as good combinations of units.
You will instantly notice that the 76mm is a good combination choice with any other option even with more 76mm guns and my view on the in game combinations matches up well with the real world deployments which is nice to see.
If you are set on only having one proper artillery platoon there are a few extra considerations. When considering the 76mm and 82mm mortar with two FP4+ bombardments you need to have plenty of mortar teams to generate rerolls to boost their volume of hits, a) to improve the chances of killing things and b) to allow you use the 76mm in direct fire mode. I would suggest you also need dedicated AT guns as well unless supporting a tanks Formation.
When the 82mm Mortar is combined with the 122mm you can get away with just units of 3 teams of mortars if you really can’t afford the 2 extra points (in some Formations you can have two or more mortar units to give at least 3 templates!).
Finally the 152mm, I would only ever use with a 76mm unit to support/protect them and is an option only for bigger games (150+ points) sadly this big howitzer has too many weaknesses to be a standard points list choice.
So there you have my views on selecting Soviet artillery – Next time I’ll be looking at the final support units some hot metal in the form of Flame Tanks.
As always let me know what you think and remember, as a Soviet player you can never have too much artillery – Martin